Winnipeg Jets winger Blake Wheeler watches his shot go past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby for a goal in the second period of a game on Jan. 22 in Washington. Jets won 4-2. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
Are the Winnipeg Jets a different road team this season?
That's the prevailing wonder following the club's first foray into the 2013 travel schedule, a short two-game trip that led to three out of a possible four points.
A day removed from dropping a shoot-out decision in Boston, the Jets turned in arguably their most complete road game -- heck, some might say their most complete game since the NHL returned to Manitoba -- with a 4-2 victory over a listless Washington Capitals squad Tuesday night, earning their first win of the season.
And that's no exaggeration, either. You probably won't find a more a complete game turned in by the Jets (1-1-1) over the last season and three games. Tie Tuesday's effort to the extra point the Jets narrowly missed out on in Beantown Monday afternoon, and there is a lot of positivity in Jetland.
Winnipeg was 14-22-5 as the visitor in 2011-12, a record that ultimately did them in with regards to post season intentions. So far in the early going here, there's reason to get excited (at least for those looking to extrapolate a season's worth of success after two away games).
Warning: any and all leaps of faith are left to the invested individual.
That said, consider the positive events of Tuesday for the Winnipeg side:
- The Jets capitalized on the man advantage when given the chance. Not one but two power play goals -- via Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd -- erased a Washington goal and gave Winnipeg a first period lead. Coming into the night, Winnipeg was in a 0-for-9 power play depression.
- Those power play goals led to a massive momentum boost for the visitors. The Jets outshot the Caps 33-17 after two periods; the third was simply a formality.
- Kane, Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored their first goals of the season. Coach Claude Noel shuffled the offence before the game, with new line combinations across the board, and the chemistry experiment yielded success. On top of that, the pairing of defencemen Toby Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, the back-end engine that drives the Jets attack, combined for five assists.
- The Jets took advantage of Washington miscues. They kept the tempo up. They put pucks on the Caps' net and then beat the defenders to loose pucks. They didn't get caught running around in their own zone and when the home team did have a scoring chance, the damage was negligible. Come to think of it, Winnipeg did to Washington what many opponents try to accomplish against them: They forced the issue.
- Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, like his mates playing his third game in four days, stood tall when it mattered. With the Jets up 4-1 after 40 minutes, the expected Capital onslaught in third arrived but Pavelec answered the challenge. Troy Brouwer's goal with 1:16 left to play pretty much summed up Washington's effort in the period: Too little, and certainly too late.
Okay folks, time for a show of hands. Studying the schedule before the start of the season and seeing those two difficult road dates -- back-to-back, no less -- in the first three games, who had the Jets returning to Winnipeg with three points?
If your arm is raised, you're lying.
Understand, two road games is definitely too small a sample size to start planning a parade or saving for playoff tickets but it does say something that Winnipeg has already channeled its visitor angst into cautious optimism for those back home.
Maybe these Jets are different Jets.